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Increasing Awareness, Agency, & Activism Through girlsBEST


In May, the girls Building Economic Success Together (girlsBEST) committee held its biannual meeting at HAP (Hmong American Partnership), a grantee-partner of the Women’s Foundation since 2014. We gathered as a committee to review grants and make grant recommendations to fund programs that build the economic power of girls, ages 12-18. It was a great opportunity for the committee to hear directly from HAP participants and to be updated on grantee-partners who currently receive girlsBEST grants.

One aspect that makes girlsBEST powerful is that each grant can be awarded for up to three years. By funding organizations for multiple years, they are better equipped to make a sustainable and lasting impact with participants, as shown in the 2018 girlsBEST longitudinal study, “Building the Economic Power of Girls Works.”

Our host organization, HAP, is a current girlsBEST grantee-partner whose WFMN grant supports the needs of a new generation of Hmong girls and women with group mentoring, and an internship program that includes stipends, financial literacy training, and career exploration.

Reflecting to Make a Lasting Impact

I’ve been on the girlsBEST Committee for three years now, and I meet so many amazing girls and women along the way. The meeting started off with a “get to know you” activity. We got a  bowl of M&Ms and had everyone pick one. A question was assigned to each color, and everyone went around and answered the question. We learned about each other’s favorite “pump-up song” or someone we wish we could meet. It was an entertaining (and tasty) way to get to know everyone.

This meeting focused on renewing current grantees and funding new ones. In my time with the girlsBEST committee, I’ve learned that progress isn’t possible without reflection and creating a space where programs can share both their strengths and pitfalls. When we reviewed the grants for current grantee-partners, we looked at their lessons learned, past accomplishments, how they used funds, examples of what programming looks like, and inspirational stories. Their inspirational stories and lessons they learned provide real insight into how the lives of the girls are affected by each organization’s programming.

When we considered grants for new organizations, we were given information about the mission and goals for each program. For each new grant, we used a system that allowed everyone to voice their opinions and concerns. Making sure that everyone is a part of the process is crucial while making our decisions.

Learning from Young Leaders at HAP

Members of the girlsBEST committee with HAP program participants.

The best part of each girlsBEST committee meeting is the opportunity to hear from girls who have participated in the host organization’s programming so we can heard firsthand the experience of a girlsBEST grantee-partner. At this meeting, we heard from a panel of girls who participate in a variety of HAP programs—including ASCEND.

Every young woman on the panel had a unique story to share. Ariel Vang was enrolled in a nursing program at St. Paul College while still in high school, and she will continue her studies this fall at Winona State. The HAP program helped cover the fees for her nursing assistant certification, which will help ensure her economic success and stability. Angel Moua talked about her experience being LGBTQ in the Hmong community and finding adults and friends in whom she could confide. Ariel shared: “Girls in our community have so much potential and power and we should be doing anything we want. I want Hmong girls to write their own definition of what a Hmong woman is.”

HAP staff member Kelly Her wants to see increased visibility for programs like theirs and to build more partnerships, while creating more inclusive spaces for Hmong women and Asian women. She tries to show HAP program participants that their dreams and goals are important and to support them as they pursue their goals.

Finding the ability to speak up in our communities can be hard. Vulnerability is something that we open ourselves up to after we get to know someone or feel comfortable. Sometimes feeling uncomfortable and pushing yourself to be open can be productive. After all, we can’t fix the issues in our communities until we address them. Then, we can work together to figure out how to combat issues together.

We know that when we listen to and center the communities most impacted that we will find better solutions for all families. By investing in community-led organizations like HAP and the other girlsBEST grantee-partners, the Women’s Foundation is funding programs that increase girls’ readiness to achieve economic well-being, and to excel in leadership and life.

Kennedy Rupert

Kennedy Rupert is a junior at Blake, and a member of the girlsBEST committee – a community of leadership donor-partners and girl leaders invited by the Women’s Foundation to participate in grantmaking to build the capacity of girls to achieve economic well-being and overcome systematic barriers.

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